Nurse instructors, also called nurse educators, straddle the line between academic and clinical expertise. Certified nurse educators train registered nurses and licensed practical nurses in a variety of academic settings. They typically are employed as on-campus or online professors and instructors at four-year colleges and universities, community colleges and career schools, or as clinical faculty members in hospitals. Many nurse educators routinely split time between clinical and educational work.
There were more than 55,500 nurse educators employed in the U.S. in 2017, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports. It’s a high-demand field — in 2015, 83 percent of nursing education programs in the U.S. were seeking additional faculty members.
Career Outlook for Nursing Instructors
|Nursing Instructor||National Average|
|Projected Job Growth||24%||7.4%|
Best States for Nursing Instructors
|District of Columbia||$153,830|
What is a Nursing Instructor?
Nursing instructors play a vital role in the healthcare system, as they are responsible for educating the many nursing students who can go on to become the LPNs, RNs, NPs and APRNs that the healthcare industry needs. They might teach at any level of nursing education, from individual continuing education courses all the way up to in-depth graduate research PhD programs. Their contributions to nursing through leadership, guidance and instruction cannot be overstated.
A primary reason why nursing instructors play such a crucial role in the development of the nursing workforce is because they’ve been on the front lines of patient care. Nursing instructors start as nurses — usually registered nurses — and move into education after completing further education and certification. They have worked with the challenges of the profession, so they can impart not only their technical knowledge to students but also their personal understanding from years of clinical nursing experience.
Nurse educators perform a variety of roles outside of the classroom as well. They supervise care provided by nursing students completing their clinical rotations, and they coordinate student placements at approved clinical sites. They teach students how to perform clinical duties, and they also evaluate and critique their student’s clinical work.
Nursing Instructor Skills
Step One: Earn Your Education
Nurse educators are required to hold at least a master’s degree. For some positions — especially at preeminent universities — candidates may even be expected to hold a Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) degree, the highest level of educational obtainment for nurses. On the plus side, a teaching credential is usually not required for nurse educator positions, as it is a college teaching position and such positions rarely require candidates to earn a teaching credential.
The path to becoming a nursing instructor or nursing faculty member starts with earning a bachelor’s degree in nursing and passing the National Council Licensure Examination, or NCLEX. At this point, an aspiring nursing educator must complete a master’s degree program in nursing education or a similar area of study.
The curriculum in master’s degree programs builds on the knowledge gained at the baccalaureate level in order to develop skills in nursing education. Master’s programs also typically have a required clinical practice component, which is important so that graduates meet certain requirements to sit for appropriate certification exams afterwards.
Specialty coursework in graduate-level nurse education programs often includes classes such as:
- Theoretical thinking in nursing
- Theories of teaching and nursing instruction
- Leadership and role development in nursing instruction
- Teaching-learning strategies
- Educational technologies in nursing
Nurses can enroll in campus-based master’s degree programs, or pursue online master’s degree programs. Nurse educators interested in learning more about doctorate-level nursing education can also refer to our page on Doctoral Degrees.
Step Two: Earn Your Certification
All registered nurses must be board-certified and earn licensure in their home state. Certification demonstrates that nurses have the core competencies, knowledge and skills to provide a certain level of patient care, which is especially important for those looking to teach other nurses how to do the same.
The following certifications are commonly held certifications for nurse educators:
- Certified Nurse Educator (CNE): This certification is administered by the National League for Nursing. It was created for nursing faculty to demonstrate their expertise as nurse educators and distinguish their specialty knowledge in nursing. The certification is valid for a five-year period. Renewal requirements include completing a minimum of 50 continuing education or professional development credits within the renewal cycle.
- RN-BC: Nursing Professional Development Certification: This specialty certification is offered by the American Nurses Credentialing Center. The credential awarded is Registered Nurse-Board Certified (RN-BC) with a specialty as a Nursing development professional. It’s the equivalent of the nurse educator certification. This credential is valid for five years, and nurses must complete a minimum of 75 hours of continuing education during the renewal cycle or complete a minimum of 1,000 practice hours in the certification specialty to meet renewal requirements.
- Post-Master’s Nurse Educator Certificates: Nurse educators who have earned a master’s degree can also complete a post-graduate nurse educator certificate program at a college or university. Such a certificate can satisfy eligibility requirements for employment at many institutions. Be sure to research the certificate you intend to earn and the position you hope to attain before starting such a program, however, in order to be sure the two are compatible.
Step Three: Continuing Education for Nurse Instructors
Continuing education is a requirement in all nursing specialties. Continuing education helps nurse educators sharpen and maintain the skills and competencies they need to use on a daily basis. The pursuit of lifelong learning also promotes greater academic and career achievements for nurses and nurse educators.
Continuing education requirements vary for each state. Registered nurses must complete continuing education courses to maintain licensure, and nurse educators must also complete continuing education to renew their specialty certifications. All nurse educators should check with their state’s board of nursing for continuing education requirements to maintain their RN license in their home state, and with the administrator of their specialty certification for any additional CE requirements.
- Nurse Educator’s Vital Role in the Future of Nursing, Daily Nurse, https://dailynurse.com/nurse-educators-vital-role-future-nursing/
- Nursing Instructors and Teachers, U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Employment and Wages, May 2017, https://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes251072.htm
- Master’s Education, American Association of Colleges of Nursing, http://www.aacnnursing.org/Nursing-Education-Programs/Masters-Education
- Master of Science in Nurse Education, Azusa Pacific University, http://catalog.apu.edu/graduateprofessional/nursing/masters-studies/nursing-education/
- What is an NPDS, American Nurse Today, https://www.americannursetoday.com/what-does-a-nursing-professional-development-specialist-nurse-educator-do/
- Certification for Nurse Educators, National League for Nursing, http://www.nln.org/professional-development-programs/Certification-for-Nurse-Educators
- Interview with a nursing instructor, U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics Career Outlook, https://www.bls.gov/careeroutlook/2014/interview/nursing-instructor.htm
- Post-Master’s Nurse Educator Certificate, Johns Hopkins School of Nursing, https://nursing.jhu.edu/academics/programs/post-degree/nurse-educator/index.html